The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution

The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution

Richard Slotkin

Language: English

Pages: 457


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In the summer of 1862, after a year of protracted fighting, Abraham Lincoln decided on a radical change of strategy—one that abandoned hope for a compromise peace and committed the nation to all-out war. The centerpiece of that new strategy was the Emancipation Proclamation: an unprecedented use of federal power that would revolutionize Southern society. In The Long Road to Antietam, Richard Slotkin, a renowned cultural historian, reexamines the challenges that Lincoln encountered during that anguished summer 150 years ago. In an original and incisive study of character, Slotkin re-creates the showdown between Lincoln and General George McClellan, the “Young Napoleon” whose opposition to Lincoln included obsessive fantasies of dictatorship and a military coup. He brings to three-dimensional life their ruinous conflict, demonstrating how their political struggle provided Confederate General Robert E. Lee with his best opportunity to win the war, in the grand offensive that ended in September of 1862 at the bloody Battle of Antietam.

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line, and Lee posted several batteries of the reserve artillery force here to augment the defense’s firepower. The guns were commanded by Colonel Stephen D. Lee, a slender, dark-bearded twenty-nine-year-old South Carolinian whose abilities would eventually earn him command of an army. The infantry line north of the Dunker Church was about two-thirds of a mile forward of Colonel Lee’s guns. It was anchored on the left in a long woodlot, known as the West Woods, and on the right by the smaller

P. Hill’s Light Division was marching to reinforce Lee. In the fields just east of the Hagerstown Pike, John Walker’s infantry division (four thousand) was posted. It was the closest reinforcement to Toombs, but Lee considered Walker’s command part of his general reserve, and he was prepared to put it on the pike and rush it north if (as he expected) the heavy blow fell there. The infantry force that held the four-mile arc of Lee’s defense line was outnumbered by Federal infantry two to one, but

He did not release the rest of Sykes’s Division or the remaining brigade of Morrell’s Division, which now constituted the army’s general reserve. A short time later the question of an attack by Sykes became moot. Before Porter’s order could be executed, headquarters got word of A. P. Hill’s onset and the sudden emergency on IX Corps’ front. The effects of Hill’s assault could be observed from the Pry house yard—blue infantry falling back from the Confederate line along the high ground south of

“Peace” faction and influenced by the work of Confederate agents. In this, the Confederacy was aided by the Emancipation Proclamation, which produced a racial backlash among important constituencies in the North. However, that reaction was not strong enough to unseat Lincoln, while the positive effects of emancipation ultimately made a decisive contribution to the Union war effort. END OF THE BEGINNING: THE UNION PERSPECTIVE The transformation of Union strategy in the summer of 1862 began with

was more strongly and immediately felt than the British public’s stake in its distant colonies. Northern armies were large enough, and close enough to their base of supplies, to occupy considerable territory. Moreover, the slave-based system of plantation agriculture on which the modern South depended was far more vulnerable to catastrophic disruption than the relatively simple agrarian economy of the colonies. A long war might theoretically exhaust the North’s taste for conquest, but the strains

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